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Welcome to a chapter of the e-book Disaster Investigation.

"When we approve exemptions (nine Swedish ferries - among them "Stena Nautica", "Silja Symphony", "Silja Opera", "Viking Cinderella" and "Malmö Link" - are approved to sail with open watertight doors at sea)we look at each ferry individually, to see whether some of the watertight doors may be open at sea. One condition is that the vessel shall not sink after flooding of one, two or three compartments. Many passengers react against these exemptions in spite of the fact that they do not affect safety"

Per Nordström, deputy director of safety, Sjöfartsinspektionen (DN 051230) 


'all watertight doors shall be closed at sea … '



1.23 Open watertight doors - incorrect Indication and remote Control - censored

The Final report (5) does not describe the watertight bulkheads/doors in the hull of the ship; numbers, positions and how they close and open, and how the doors are remotely indicated/controlled.

This is a serious fault, as it is very important to know, if the watertight doors/bulkheads are closed and are preventing water to spread, when a ship is sinking.

If the watertight doors had been closed, and if the 'Estonia' only were leaking into one or two hull compartments, the ship may have listed but should not have sunk as a result of the leakage 2.17 - (or water on the car deck in the superstructure above the hull). Actually, neither the Commission nor the media nor the German experts has ever clarified to the public, that hulls of passenger ships like the 'Estonia' are in fact subdivided by watertight bulkheads with or without doors, so that the ship still floats after leakage in the hull (and for that matter, if water floods the superstructure). This second defence against sinking is totally censored in the Final report (5).

It makes a very odd impression that the Final report does not mention at all any watertight doors and bulkheads on the 'Estonia' and how a passenger ship - e.g. the 'Estonia' - actually floats on its hull - intact and damaged. You get the impression that the Commission intentionally deleted all mentioning in the Final report (5) of the watertight subdivision/doors of the hull as part of the conspiracy to convince the public that the ship sank due to water in the superstructure.

The 'Estonia' was protected according to the SOLAS by 13 watertight bulkheads, which divided the ferry into 12 watertight compartments between the aft peak and tanks forward and the forepeak tank. These are simple rules since at least 30-50 years back and Sweden, Finland and Estonia have adopted them.

If in a collision one bulkhead is damaged and two compartments are flooded, the ferry will always float.

The risk of collision is always there. In most collisions, say 70%, you only rupture the hull between two bulkheads, i.e. no bulkhead is damaged and only one compartment is flooded. No problem - the ship floats. In more severe collisions, say 29%, you may damage one watertight bulkhead and two compartments are flooded. No problem again - all passenger ships above a certain size are designed to survive with two watertight compartments full of water. If two watertight bulkheads - a fair distance apart - are damaged in one collision - a very rare occurrence (<1% chance), three compartments are flooded and the ship may sink. However in any case the watertight doors in all the bulkheads must be closed at any time at sea. You never know, when a collision will take place, so the watertight doors must be closed.

The SOLAS rules say, i.a. that

'the number of openings in watertight bulkheads shall be reduced to a minimum depending on the design of the ship ...; satisfactory means to close the openings shall be provided' (SOLAS II-1.15.1).

In engine compartments you cannot have more than one door in each bulkhead except in special cases (not applicable to the 'Estonia'). Further the rules evidently say

'all watertight doors shall be closed at sea … ' (SOLAS II-

A normal interpretation is that there are no watertight doors at all in the bulkheads except between engine rooms (for escape and emergency purposes).

Watertight doors between passenger and/or crew spaces in the hull are not permitted.

Any passenger or crewmember has to take the stairs up to the bulkhead deck and down again to reach an adjacent compartment.

The 'Estonia' did not comply with the Rules

The 'Estonia' did not comply with these rules - e.g., the engine control room, ECR, (sic) on deck 1 was itself fitted with two watertight doors - one leading into the engine room itself, one leading into the passenger accommodation forward. Even worse - on deck 0 below the ECR the same bulkheads were also fitted with watertight doors!

This was a very stupid/illegal arrangement - the ECR should of course have been located inside the engine room itself - no watertight doors! Who has ever heard of an ECR inside a watertight compartment outside the engine room?

A standard ferry normally has maximum five or six watertight doors between engine spaces - there are only two or three on smaller ferries. The 'Estonia' (ex 'Viking Sally') was an extreme, totally illegal exception approved by the Finnish administration - albeit for coastal trading. That the Swedish National Maritime Administration had never complained 1980-1994 is a mystery.

The 'Estonia' had totally twenty-two (!) off watertight doors:

three between store rooms aft, eight in the engine spaces, two between engine and passenger spaces and seven in the public spaces forward. The bulkheads in the engine rooms - frames no. 66, A and L - had two doors each - not acceptable by the SOLAS. The bulkhead at frame L had in fact three doors fitted, one extra door to the passenger spaces. Bulkheads at frames 80, 91 and 101 had also two watertight doors each, where none should have been fitted (the 'Estonia' was a lengthened version of the Swedish flag 'Diana II' - an extra section had been fitted at frame 79 with frame marked by letters A, B, C, … etc.).

One reason why the 'Estonia' had too many watertight doors seems to be that they had moved the crew from watertight compartments without watertight doors on deck 1 in the hull to comfortable cabins in the deck house on deck 8. The hull compartments on decks 1 and 0 (!) below the car deck were then allocated to passengers, and as they did not like to run up/down in stairs to go to the toilets, watertight doors were installed. They also fitted a swimming pool compartment - with the pool piping recessed down into the double bottom! - a sauna compartment and a conference compartment for passengers on deck 0, which also were interconnected by watertight doors. And at the same time extra doors were fitted between the engine rooms themselves and to the passenger spaces without considering the risks of such doors. The passengers could walk into the engine rooms through the watertight doors!

The approval of the Finnish Administration in 1979 of this arrangement was not correct. It demonstrates the total incompetence of the Finnish Maritime Administration.

Illegal watertight Doors - incorrect Escape Arrangements

Most of the watertight doors on the 'Estonia' were totally illegal. They should have been permanently closed/removed or welded tight and the passengers and crew should have been forced to walk up to the car deck level, when moving from one watertight compartment to another. Only a few watertight doors were permitted in the engine room(s) to be used as escapes in case of a fire.

The illegal watertight doors in the passenger accommodation in the hull also resulted in that the escape arrangements from these compartments became defective. Normally you shall have two escape routes (stairs) from any passenger compartment in the hull - if one is being blocked by a fire you shall use the other escape - and it shall not lead through a watertight door. The six passenger compartments in the hull of the 'Estonia' had only one correct escape - the normal stairwell with a door located in the centre of the compartment.

On deck 0 two watertight compartments - for stabilizers and heeling tanks - could only be accessed via watertight doors from adjacent compartments. Correct arrangement would have been direct access from deck 1 or 2. Thus, if the stabilizer compartment was leaking and flooded you could not access without opening a watertight door, when the flood water spreads!

Watertight Door Control

All watertight doors should be able to be remotely closed from the bridge. The Germans, in correspondence with the Commission, (act B155**) have suggested that the controls and indications were manipulated - green light indicated an open door. The Germans have never pointed out that the whole watertight door arrangement was illegal.

If the remote closure functioned is not known. We know that the doors were open at sea to facilitate passengers and crew movements. It is possible that the local and remote closure function was shut off so, e.g. a passenger would not close the door.

The Final Report (5) states that the key witnesses in the ECR 1.48 had informed that the watertight doors were closed after the sudden listing had occurred. The statement is strange (and an invention of the Commission) - there is no indication panel in the ECR for watertight doors showing, if the doors are open or closed.

The previously mentioned secret letter act B155** (19) from the yard mentions the watertight doors on page 3 (The Germans had interviewed seamen, who had served on the ship under Finnish flag) -

"the light indication for the watertight doors on the bridge must have been changed after the ship was renamed the 'Estonia', because as long as she sailed under Finnish flag the lights were 'green' when the doors were 'open' (which was the normal condition) and 'red' when the doors were 'closed'."

This information is sensational and shows that, when the ship was Finnish flag, she did not comply with the SOLAS-rules, which evidently require closed watertight doors at sea to be indicated by green lights.

It is probable that the 'Estonia' also did not comply with these rules, as it was impractical to close the watertight doors at sea, as 75% of the passengers on deck 1 could then not visit the public toilets 2.20 without walking a stair up and a stair down. It seems also to apply to the passenger compartments on deck 0. A passenger could take an elevator down to deck 0 and go through watertight doors to the swimming pool, sauna and conference room. Many passengers travelling with the 'Estonia' have informed that the watertight doors were always open at sea. Estline employees have given the same statements to the Commission.

Incorrect Handling of watertight Doors

It is further probable that incorrect handling of the watertight doors contributed to the accident, as the ship would never have sunk unless the doors were open.

The watertight doors had remote indication on the bridge. According international practice (not uniformly applied) a green light indicates a closed door (the normal, safe position) and a red light an open door (the un-normal, unsafe position). As the 'Estonia' highly probably sailed with at least five watertight doors on deck 1 forward always open, then five lights on the control panel on the bridge should have been red and the rest green at sea. There are other suggestions that there were no lights at all on the panel (as found by the divers 1.16 and then censored by the Commission).

According letter act B155** (19) the shipping company may have changed the indication lights for the doors on deck 1 earlier. They showed green, when they were open. That something is strange with the watertight door indication was confirmed by the former Commission expert Bengt Schager in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter (DN Debatt) 971203, where he wrote:

"When one of the Swedish company inspectors testified it was shown that … the inspector thought … that the chief officer wasn't informed about ... the meaning of the watertight door indication on the bridge. He (the chief officer) guessed that the doors were closed when the indication was green. The chief officer had worked on the 'Estonia' from the start of operations. He thus thought that the watertight doors in the cabin compartments on deck 1 were closed in watertight compartments (when the lamps were green). ... The following deficiencies were found ... The chief officer did not know the meaning of the indication lights of the watertight doors".

The Final Report (5) does not mention the problems with the watertight door indication. And the Commission expert Schager does not explain, why he, based on unproven accusations of a Swedish Estline 'inspector' whose name is Karl Karell, criticised the chief officer for guessing (sic), when the chief officer correctly pointed out that green lights indicated closed doors. According letter act B155** (19) it is suggested that all lights indicated green, even if five doors on deck 1 were open. This is extremely confusing, particularly when the Commission censors the whole matter. It would have been very easy to fix the defect - connect the lights correctly (even if the doors should have been welded tight). The German letter B155** also proposes that the ship was leaking before the accident.

The remote closing of the watertight doors was thus positioned on the bridge. Did the remote closing work? At a questioning by the Commission on 2 November 1994 (with Mr Bengt Schager attending) Mr Åke Sjöblom, ship safety inspector of the Swedish NMA, stated (act D6a*) that he did not test (sic) the remote closing of the doors from the bridge. The reason should have been that you do not do that with 500-600 persons aboard. Mr. Zahlér - see below - was supposed to do local testing below. Mr Sjöblom added that the

"deficiency of the watertight door remote control panel was that the chief officer had no idea what was open or closed. The lights were green and the chief officer thought (sic) it meant that the doors were closed. And so says the latest SOLAS rules. But on this ship green light meant that the doors were open."

So at least two persons told the Commission that the watertight door indication panel was incorrect or confusing. And Mr Sjöblom did not test the remote closing!

Watertight Doors kept open from the Bridge

On 2 November 1994 Mr Gunnar Zahlér, ship safety inspector of the Swedish NMA, was also questioned by the Commission (act D6a*). Zahlér had inspected the 'Estonia' at Tallinn the 27 September 1994, the day before the accident together with Mr Sjöblom. Zahlér informed that in port (Tallinn) the watertight doors were open, i.e.

'the doors got an input signal from the bridge to be kept open'.

This was a very strange arrangement. You should not be able to open, or to keep open, the watertight doors from the bridge (sic) - only to remotely close a locally open door from the bridge.

Zahlér thus explained that he tried locally to close the doors in port but when any door was closed,

'they automatically opened immediately ... we didn't close the doors from the bridge, as there were persons aboard' ...

i.e. the control panel on the bridge was arranged to prevent local closure.

The statement of Mr Zahlér is another sensation, i.e. the watertight doors could be kept open from the bridge and you could not close them locally.

The doors should of course always be closed - they should only be opened, when somebody passed through, and then they should close automatically. If, in the event the door was kept opened locally, you should be able to close it from the bridge.

The repeat statements from Zahlér and Sjöblom that you do not test the watertight doors system, when there are persons onboard, are strange. Very few passengers must have been on decks 1 and 0 at this time and there were only seven watertight doors in the passenger spaces. The other 13 watertight doors were in crew-only spaces. By remote closing a small alarm clock should have rung at each door, which then would close slowly. It takes 10-15 second. No risk for passengers and it would have been easy to advise a cabin steward to warn the passengers or to make an announcement via the public address system. But the remote testing was never verified by Mr Sjöblom. And the watertight doors should not have been installed in the first place!

With the above-described system of watertight doors the 'Estonia' was not seaworthy - she was frankly speaking very dangerous. We do not know why Mr Zahlér didn't demand that all doors were closed immediately (in port and at sea) - maybe the 'Estonia' accident had never taken place then. Mr Zahlér could easily have stopped the 'Estonia' at Tallinn by refusing her to enter a Swedish port.

The above system with open watertight doors in passenger accommodation in the hull seems to be standard practice in the Baltic. The writer visited the Swedish flag M/S 'Trelleborg' summer 2001 and found at sea open watertight doors in the passenger accommodation below the bulkhead deck. The Swedish Maritime administration doesn't seem interested to stop this dangerous practice.

Illegal and dangerous Arrangements on similar Ferries

The watertight doors control system of the 'Estonia' was probably manufactured by AEG as shown below:

Figure 1.23.1 shows the watertight doors control panel on a German built ferry similar to the 'Estonia'. The picture is taken year 2002. The ferry is (incorrectly) certified and approved by a European shipping administration for short international voyages.

There are twelve watertight doors in the hull - five doors (nos. 1-5) on deck 0 between engine rooms, which is in order, and seven doors (nos. 6-12) between crew and passenger spaces on deck 1, which is totally illegal according to SOLAS. Three watertight bulkheads have two watertight doors each (doors nos. 1 and 7, nos. 2 and 8 and nos. 5 and 9 are located on top of each other in the same bulkheads).

Figure 1.23.1 - Incorrect watertight door control panel - year 2002

The indication is green for an open door and red for a closed door. The doors can be remotely opened from the bridge with the green push button to the right, which is illegal. Naturally the doors can be remotely closed with the red push button to the left.

When the doors are kept open from the bridge, an inexperienced person cannot close the door locally. When he pushes the local close-button, the door slides to the closed position, but when the push button is released, the door opens itself (as Mr. Zahlér observed)! To really close the door there is a little trick - turn the push button, when the door is in closed position. Then the door cannot be remotely opened from the bridge. This trick is not described on any notice board at the door.

After having remotely opened/closed the above doors a couple of times, the system failed due to low hydraulic pressure. It was no longer possible to close the doors!

(It is very simple to make the system legal: Disconnect the (green) remote opening button on the bridge. Change the light indication - red for open, green for closed. Permanently close doors nos. 6-12. Keep doors nos. 1-5 closed at sea).

It is very probable that the 'Estonia' had the same illegal system as shown above and that it contributed to the accident. A new investigation will find the truth.

1. The 22 off watertight doors were very likely open, when the accident (the sudden listing) took place (at 01.02 hrs)

2. The watertight doors were never closed, as

2.1 The crew on the bridge was thrown down to lee and never reached the close button(s), and

2.2 No surviving passenger on deck 1 heard the loud alarm bells, which are activated, when the watertight doors close

3. Leak water earlier flooded several compartments through the open watertight doors and caused first the sudden listing and later sinking.

In other chapters of this book is discussed the possibility that certain watertight doors were actually closed before the accident and that leak water was isolated between watertight bulkheads with these closed doors before the sudden listing occurred at 01.02 hrs, and that these doors were remotely opened from the bridge. The results were two severe bangs heard some minutes before the sudden listing took place. But no survivor from deck 1 has stated that he/she heard the very loud alarm bells indicating opening (or closing) of a watertight door. The possibility is still that the alarm bells were disconnected.

At the dive examination of the wreck 1.16 the control panel should have been filmed. If it were done is not clear - the Commission anyway censored all information about the watertight doors and their control system on the bridge and locally. The same thing the German group of experts 3.13 did - but the Germans still published (without any comments) a picture of the alleged 'Estonia' control panel for the watertight doors.

The 'Estonia' Control Panel for watertight Doors

The picture right shows the 'Estonia' control panel for watertight doors. It is a little more complex than the panel shown above. Top are two deck plans with indication lights red/green - deck 1 with 14 watertight compartments and 11 doors (totally illegal), deck 0 with another 10 or 11 doors (one door is maybe a hatch in the deck?) most of which are illegal. The panel confirms that several watertight bulkheads had two or three watertight doors, which was totally illegal. Bottom left on the panel are two buttons/indication lights - the left is green. Maybe is it on/off for the system. Bottom middle are four buttons and/or indication lights probably used for remote opening (the two upper ones - totally illegal) and for remote closing (the two lower ones). Bottom right is a dimmer and a small button for light bulb control. If it were possible to remote open/close individual doors is unclear.

Figur 1.23.2 - The 'Estonia' control panel for watertight doors
What is clear is that the complete system was wrong. You shall not be able to remotely open the doors from the bridge.

The suggestion of the writer that the 'Estonia' watertight doors were remotely kept open during the whole accident is supported by the above picture. That an unknown crew member later should have closed the doors is unlikely. No survivor from the deck heard the very loud alarm bells, when watertight doors are closed (or opened).

The writer is convinced that the defective watertight door system seriously contributed to the 'Estonia' accident, as the ship would never have sunk, if the doors were closed. Maybe some doors were closed at sea before the leakage, some watertight compartments filled up and then the doors were opened (!) from the bridge by mistake, when the crew attempted to close all doors, which resulted in two big bangs heard on the ship just prior to the sudden listing.74 The writer has never made an attempt to verify this (it is difficult to do such a test), but the result would have been a shock wave of water flooding the adjacent dry compartment - probably being noticed by some noise or bangs - and then loss of stability - sudden listing - due to the great free water surfaces on the inner bottom of several compartments.

The Final Report (5) thus censures the following facts:

(a) the 'Estonia' had too many watertight doors,

(b) most of them were not installed as per the SOLAS,

(c) they were always open at sea, and

(d) they were probably not closed after the 'accident'.

The incorrect and defective watertight doors system contributed to the accident.


74 In a letter to the writer 960719 the expert B. Schager of the Commission said that: "The watertight doors were closed" at the accident. Asking how this was known Mr Schager informed by letter 960801 that: "According testimonies the watertight doors were closed during the early events of the accident (at the beginning of the sequence of events)". Naturally there is a difference. What is 'at the beginning of the sequence of events'? The alleged noise at 00.55 hrs or the alleged listing at 01.15 hrs? And who closed them? From where? The bridge? Locally? No more clarifications were received from Schager. Nobody from the bridge survived and it was on the bridge that the indicating panel was located. Nobody was in the aft compartments with many watertight doors. Nobody was on deck 0 forward with three watertight doors. The 21 survivors from deck 1 observed that the five watertight doors there were open. The three survivors from the ECR had to pass watertight doors to escape. Thus nobody could have confirmed that all watertight doors were closed. And no survivor has heard the alarm bells, when the watertight doors were closed. Schager - an expert in the Commission - obviously tried to fool the writer with his two letters stating that the watertight doors were closed. But he confirmed that the watertight door were open before the accident, which thus contributed to the accident.

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